Podcast Ep. #3: The Importance of Finishing

Today, I would like to talk about why you should finish your writing projects. If you want to improve your skills as a writer, it is important to write a lot and to write continuously, but it is equally important that you learn to write a project all the way through to the end and that you do this repeatedly. So, on today’s episode, I am going to give you two very important reasons why you should finish, as well as a few tips on how to do that.

I will begin this discussion with a little bit about myself. Growing up, I was always reading books that were way above my grade level, and this was a good thing for me as a student, but as a writer, it often made me feel inadequate because the authors I idolized wrote all these complex plots and complex characters and complex sentence constructions that were so far beyond my skill level—and, frankly, my age—that I was constantly disappointed by what I wrote.

On some level, this pushed me to learn more and try to improve my skills. But on another level, it crushed my desire to write. When you think everything you’re writing is crap, it’s hard to maintain the motivation to finish your projects. So I hardly ever finished anything unless it was for a class. I would start a project really excited because I had this great idea, and then I would get frustrated with it when my interpretation of the idea didn’t live up to how I saw the idea in my head. Eventually, I would start thinking the idea was either too hard for me or maybe I just couldn’t write it because it was a crappy idea to begin with. Basically, either my writing was crappy, or my ideas were crappy or both. Either way, not good. I didn’t finish many things, and that became a problem. Since I never finished anything, I never developed the endurance or skills to finish anything. In other words, my inability to finish one project turned into an inability to finish any project.

So the first reason you should finish your projects is that, just like anything else, writing a project from beginning to end takes practice. Being able to carry a story from beginning to end and keep it interesting takes practice. Writing complete character arcs takes practice. Knowing when to end a project—being able to tell when a project is complete and when it needs more fleshing out—takes practice. I used to think that as long as I was writing, I was practicing writing, and eventually my skills would improve enough for me to finish something, but it’s actually the opposite. You have to finish things first—you have to really commit to them and push through the issues with your ideas and come up with solutions for those issues—in order to build your skills. Half of writing is learning how to fix your writing. You will always make mistakes—there will always be potential plot holes, characters that you can’t get a good feel for, wording that you don’t like, etc. Don’t give up. Don’t pretend those things aren’t there. Figure out how to fix them because when you do that, you’ll be teaching yourself how to make your writing better. And I know that can seem really daunting when you’re first starting out, and you have a lot of issues, but just take one issue at a time. Work through that one. Solve it. Then work through the next one. If you do that enough times, it will get easier and less daunting over time. Eventually, you’ll reach the end of your project, and you will have a blueprint for how to write something better the next time. Knowing what your issues are and knowing how you were able to solve them and press forward with your story—that is knowledge that will help you write your next project. And it will also give you confidence to write your next project. But it takes practice.

But what if you are trying to finish something and you feel totally overwhelmed by how much you have left to write or how many issues you need to fix? Well, I always think of my dad. Let me explain. When I was a little kid, my dad and I used to go to this all-you-can-eat buffet restaurant called Golden Corral—you may have heard of it—and my dad would eat, like, three or four plates to my one plate. And I would always ask him how he could eat so much, and he would always reply, ‘One bite at a time.’ So this is the advice I offer to you and that I am constantly reminding myself of. How do you finish a paragraph? One sentence at a time. How do you finish a chapter? One paragraph or one page a time. How do you finish a story? One chapter a time. How do you fix a dozen issues? One issue at a time. Just one thing at a time. Always one thing at a time. When you sit down to write, decide what thing you need to work on that day and work on that one thing. It does you no good to waste time panicking about how much story you have left to tell or how much you have left to fix. If you write one word, one sentence, one page, one chapter, and you just continuously do that over and over and over, eventually you will have a story…or whatever your writing project is.

The second reason that you should finish your writing projects is that it is often hard to truly see what worked and what didn’t until you are able to view each section within the scope of the entire project. Like in a painting, you can’t see how all the individual brushstrokes are working together (or not) to form the full picture until you step back from the canvas and view the project as a whole.

I used to struggle with finishing even chapter-length things (like 3,000 to 4,000 word stories) because I would want to edit as I wrote, and I would change things so much as I was going that it was hard for me to maintain any sense of direction in my stories. I would say ‘well, instead of this, I should do this’ or ‘instead of this, this’ and I would just keep overcorrecting and overcorrecting until I either got too frustrated with the story to continue or I would completely lose track of why I was writing it.

When I started writing fan fiction, I forced myself to not make any edits to a chapter until I had completed the entire thing, and this was very hard for me to do, but it was so necessary. Finally, I was able to write something all the way through, and once I had written the chapter all the way through, I discovered that I could really see what was working and what wasn’t. Sometimes, things I thought wouldn’t work, did. And other times, things I thought would work brilliantly, fell flat when I read them in the context of the whole chapter. Context is so important, and context is something I couldn’t see while I was writing. Only after the chapter was complete and I viewed it as a whole could I tell what I should change and what I shouldn’t.

But what if you are a very detail-oriented person, and, like me, you easily get caught up in minutia, and in the moment you just want to fix and rewrite everything? First of all, having a critical eye is a good thing in that it can help you self-edit your work. But it’s bad to self-edit while you are drafting a work, while you are just trying to get words on paper. If you tend to obsess over small details like me, you have to figure out how to turn that part of your brain off when you are writing a first draft. You have to learn how to be okay with stuff not being where you want it to be for the time being.

So I like to keep drafting and editing as two separate processes. Remember, if you’re ultimately not happy with something, you can fix it later, but like I said, it is often much easier to see what actually needs to be fixed or what needs to be taken out or what needs to be added when you can view the whole scope of the project and how all the individual parts of it are interacting with each other.

One last piece of advice I would like to give on finishing project is that it is much easier to finish a project if you are constantly forcing yourself to work on just that project, instead of going back and forth between several different projects. I personally have several different projects that I am working on right now, but I feel comfortable doing that at this point because I’ve already finished a good number of things.

But when I really decided that I needed to work on finishing—that, above everything else that was wrong with my writing, my inability to finish projects was my number one problem—I put all my effort into one project, and I didn’t write anything else during that time because my priority was just finishing, finishing, finishing. So if you’re finding it difficult to stay focused on one project long enough to finish it, I would suggest picking your favorite project and just shutting everything else down for the time being. And whenever you have free time, you work on only that project.

The other key to finishing is, of course, simply making a habit of writing. I don’t think the quantity of your writing matters as much as the frequency of it. Even if you can only write for twenty or thirty minutes a day—one page a day or one paragraph a day—it’s good to keep coming back to the same thing because your ideas will stay fresh in your head if you are constantly looking at them, and it’s far easier to stay motivated to finish something if you are constantly working on it. Whether your progress is slow or fast, consistency will help you stay in that creative headspace and stay excited about your project. It will also help writing itself feel more natural to you and less like a chore each time you do it.

In summary, if I could go back and tell my younger self one thing about writing, it would be to finish things that I start. Just finish. Don’t worry about it being good. Don’t stress about small things. Don’t get stuck comparing yourself to writers that have been around for years and years. Just finish. Push through the difficult sections, even if you have to write them very, very badly. And be proud of yourself when you complete something, even if you don’t think it’s the best thing you could have written. Just the act of following through with an idea and pushing through the difficult parts of completing it is something that you should be proud of. Completing a project will give you a fuller view of your work, and you will see more clearly what you are doing well and what you are struggling with, and you need those insights if you want to get better. If you never finish anything, you’ll never finish anything, and that’s just the way that goes.

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About Me

JodiMarie Meyer enjoys toeing the line between the mundane and the magical and exploring the dichotomies of good and evil; she primarily writes love stories, but not always. Definitely someone who got in trouble for daydreaming in class. Definitely someone who scribbles frantic story notes while stirring pasta. She makes her home in the Maryland countryside with her husband, dog, and rabbit. She is the author of one short story collection: magic/madness. Currently, she is writing her debut novel, Luc & Lila.